BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA;

BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS: DIPLOMACY, ECONOMICS, JOURNALISM AND JAPANOLOGY;

BETWEEN FOUR LANGUAGES: ENGLISH, CHINESE, RUSSIAN AND JAPANESE



Chapter 4

BACK TO CANBERRA

1. ANU Connections
2. The Stephen Fitzgerald Connection
3. Discovering Canberra's True Role over Vietnam
4. Reorganising a Career
5. The ASIO Dogs Unleashed
6. An ASIO Entrapment Attempt
7. The Last Straw; Out of EA


1. ANU (Australian National University) Connections

Arriving in Canberra from Moscow early 1965 the reception was chilly, as expected. I set about planning the new career I had promised myself.

First move was to check out that large Canberra employer of ex- bureaucrats - the Australian National University. In 1962, when I had just returned from Hongkong, I had been approached with a good job offer from John (later Sir John) Crawford of the ANU. He wanted to set up a research centre on the Chinese economy. Needless to say that was well before I had emerged as a critic of government policies,

I also had an offer from J.D.B.Miller, the head of the ANU international relations department, to become a researcher in his own department. Both were keen to recruit Chinese language speakers, and I was one of the very few in Canberra at the time. With Crawford I also had a personal connection; he had co-authored a book with my father on the Australian economy.

I turned down both offers, saying EA were already hinting that I would posted to Moscow in a year or so, and that when I returned I would be more valuable to the ANU. Not just Chinese, I would also have Russian and Sino-Soviet experience - a hot topic at the time. Both Crawford and Miller seemed to go along with that idea.

But when I did return in 1965, it was fairly clear we would not have much to say to each other. Crawford was making headlines with savage tirades against ANU students with the good sense and conscience to demonstrate against the Vietnam War.

Miller was handing out grave warnings about the threat from China, and his department had been stacked with a lot of strange people from strange places who seemed to have briefs rigidly to support government positions on China and Vietnam.

In any case I had already had a gut-full of studying Communist societies. China was still off limits to all but the most pro-Beijing of academics. And it would be a long time before I would want to return to Moscow. I decided to move into economics and Japan, partly because my earlier Oxford interest in economics still lingered, partly because Japan was already emerging as an important economic power, and partly because I wanted follow up on the personal interest in Japan I had picked up when I was in Hongkong and Moscow.

At the time, the Research School of Pacific Studies at the ANU was giving quite generous scholarships for PhD research into Asian countries. The economics department there was headed by my former Canberra University College economics teacher, Heinz Arndt. I contacted him soon after my return. He said he could recommend me for a scholarship to study some aspect of the Japanese economy.
It would be a three year scholarship, with the promise of an extra year to do field work in Japan and learn Japanese. Arndt even suggested a research topic for me - Japan's private direct investment abroad - mainly because of his interest in the unusual ways in which the Japanese were beginning to invest in Indonesian resource development.

As for my hard-gained China and Russia involvements, I could return to them after I had finished up with Japan and economics.

But my China connection was soon to be demolished, largely due to a chance meeting with another Chinese language student, Stephen Fitzgerald.

2. The Stephen Fitzgerald Connection

Fitzgerald had joined External Affairs directly from university some years after me. He had followed me into the Chinese language course at Point Cook and then on to the two year Hongkong posting. I ran into him by chance mid-1962 shopping in Canberra's Civic Centre. He had just returned from Hongkong and was looking for a job.

He too had decided he could not put up with Canberra's anti-Beijing hysteria and wanted out, he said. But with a degree in English literature from Tasmania, and still inadequate Chinese, his prospects for a new career outside EA were bleak.

Did I have any ideas?

I said I had one, a good one.

As it turned out, it was too good. I would do myself a lot of damage as a result.

I thought that the offer I had received from J.D.B.Miller in 1962 might still be open. I made an appointment to call on George Modelski, a US academic temporarily in charge of the International Relations department while Miller was away on some study tour. I told him how I was planning to move into the economics department and would not be taking up Miller's earlier offer, but that Fitzgerald might be available.

Modelski confirmed that the department still needed a Chinese speaker, and that while they could not give Fitzgerald the research post they had originally offered me, they could offer him a PhD scholarship to work on China.

I passed the offer on to Fitzgerald. He accepted it, eagerly.

At the time I realised vaguely the risk involved - that Fitzgerald would come to be seen as the resident China expert and make it that much harder for me to move back to China later.

But for me at the time it was far more important to have a friend at court, so to speak, within the ANU. I would not be so isolated. The world would come to know that both the people External Affairs had trained as China specialists had moved out because of Canberra's eccentric view of China.I would not be so vulnerable to rightwing/conservative attack

It was a horrible mistake. When I did begin to criticise Canberra's policies Fitzgerald did little to support me. He wanted to keep his head down, his nose clean and avoid being branded as a public dissenter in the same camp as Clark.
His refusal to back me up during the Vietnam/China debate hurt. But there was little I could do about it.

Later, when Whitlam decided it was safe to embrace Beijing, Fitzgerald made a spectacular run as a China expert within the ALP (a party which I had with difficulty encouraged him to join back in 1965).
He ended up in 1972 as Canberra's first Australian ambassador to Beijing – to an embassy which might not even have existed till much later but for some moves I was to make in 1971 while based in Tokyo (details later).

He also made quite sure that one Gregory Clark never had a chance to get back into anything concerned with China (details later). That really did hurt.

3. Discovering Canberra's True Role over Vietnam

With my ANU scholarship decided, I was able finally to work out my future with External Affairs. They had been at a loss to know what to do with me after my Moscow tantrums. But I was still formally a member of their department, and they continued to treat me as such.

They even sent me to Malaysia for a few weeks to star in a training film on how a young diplomat sets about opening a new mission in an Asian country.

They also sent me to Melbourne for the standard ASIO post-Moscow de-briefing. There I discovered the depth of ASIO ignorance and its ingrained anti-Russia bias.

At one point ASIO's alleged expert on the USSR confronted me with a report I had written from Odessa in 1964. In it I had noted that the local KGB headquarters was just around the corner from my hotel.Convinced he had trapped a KGB agent red-handed, alleged expert stood up suddenly and asked threatenly how I knew such an secret detail as the KGB location.

I had to tell him that the KGB was a public organisation, and that it liked to display its title - Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopastnosti -in large letters on brass plates at the entrance to its buildings.

De-briefing over, I was parked in the East Asia section where I kept myself busy going back over the files on China and Vietnam policy, making sure I avoided suspicions by keeping my eyes away from top secret material.

But I did discover one very important fact: this was that Canberra had been even more hawkish than Washington over Vietnam, mainly because of its visceral fear of China. At one stage when the US seemed to be doubtful about its Vietnam intervention, our Washington Embassy in the form of then counsellor, Alan Renouf, had with Canberra approval lobbied Washington to stay the course.

(Post-Vietnam, Renouf was to pretend to be progressive with a book saying Australia was a ‘frightened country.’)

At the time the media, the leftwing and many others wanted to believe that Canberra had only got involved in Vietnam under pressure from its powerful US friend.The reality was the complete opposite. Great and powerful friend was being lured back into Vietnam by a war-hungry Australia.

Obviously I could not run out into the streets and broadcast this important fact. I had to wait several years to bring it out into the open. But even then that biased, complacent concoction that passes for informed Australian foreign affairs opinion showed little interest.

Another researcher (Michael Sexton ) stumbled on the same facts many years later when under Whitlam some official records were released. But his excellent and informed writings too were largely ignored. Public, media and academic attention focused on so-called mid-road gurus such as Bruce Grant with their long and irrelevant treatises on whether or not the ANZUS security treaty had obliged Australia to support US policies over Vietnam.

But I am getting away from my chronicle, again.

4. Reorganising a Career

As part of my EA end game, I also asked for, and was granted, time off to return to Point Cook to take the UK Foreign Office interpreter exam in Russian. If I was to leave EA (as was increasingly likely), I would need all the qualifications I could get to put on my CV.

I had gained the same qualification in Chinese while still in Hongkong. I knew the Russian qualification also would not be too demanding. A week later my CV was able to boast two languages: Chinese and Russian, both at Foreign Office, A level.

Meanwhile Heinz Arndt had come through with the promise of a PhD research scholarship in his ANU department.
......

With the ANU scholarship confirmed, I sought a formal meeting with James Plimsoll, then the EA permanent head.

I said that I was reluctant to leave the organisation which had helped train me in Chinese. On the other hand, I did have a serious disagreement with Canberra's China and Vietnam policies, and that this made it hard for me to continue to work in an organisation committed to those policies.

Plimsoll was, as many others have said, a very courteous man. He treated me most politely, even though I was in effect saying that he and his department were a bunch of misguided murderers. He said his Department did not want to lose a Chinese speaker, even if at the time they had little use for such people. Then he added some very important words:

'Why don't you just take a few years study leave and come back to us after the Vietnam thing is over.'

It seemed a sensible compromise. I applied for and got the unpaid study leave from EA he had recommended. Soon after I began my new career as a post-graduate student on a stipend of 2,500 pounds a year. I would wait 'till the Vietnam thing was over.'

Becoming a Student, Again

It was still only May, and the scholarship did not begin till September. My first move was to do something about my post-Podolsk resolution to try to gain more experience of the real world outside diplomacy and bureaucracy.

One move was to buy guitar (it remained almost completely unused). Another was to start to get involved with ANU student life. And yet another was to subject myself to hard physical proletarian work.

I got a 20 pound a week day job with a gang of workers planting radiata pine trees in the rocky hills outside Canberra. At night I was indulging in the mild hedonism of Canberra student life. I also sought out Russian speakers to enjoy some post-Moscow nostalgia.

Setting out on a frosty Canberra morning to drive a dozen or so miles to work eight hours with a bunch of rough laborers (most were on probation from the local jail I discovered later), planting trees and returning exhausted in the evening to shower and clean up before going off to yet another free-wheeling student party, was one of life's more interesting contrasts.

Cutting the Umbilical Cord?

Meanwhile I had to decide whether I really did want to return to EA after the few years promised by Plimsoll. The Vietnam War was heating up. Almost daily I would wake to the sickening news of yet another B52 bombing raid over North Vietnam and the gloating US body count numbers.

At the Canberra University College they had just held Canberra's first 'moratorium' debate over Vietnam. The leftwing and anti-war arguments had been weak; little effort was made to answer rightwing claims that the war was part of Beijing's aggressive moves southward, that the Vietcong were dreadful people guilty of atrocities etc etc.

I remember particularly one 'moratorium' meeting where the rightwing lawyer and later prominent Liberal Party politician, Tom Hughes, had quoted a statement from the North Vietnamese newspaper, Hoc Tap, predicting 'the inevitable failure of the US aggressors to defeat the spirit of the Vietnamese people.'

'Hoc Tap!' Hughes repeated sarcastically, as if a newspaper with such a ludicrous name could possibly dare to challenge the world's super-power. The crowd loved it.

I knew then that sooner or later I would have to go public and try to answer these people.

Apart from anything else, I had a mine of information, about China especially, that could help the anti-war arguments. But to be criticising government policy while still a government official on study leave would be impossible. Logic demanded I should make a clean break.

On the other hand, I still had that emotional attachment to my former employer.

EA in those days was a strongly familial organization. We saw ourselves as members of a tightly knit club, separate not only from the rest of Australian society but from other departments and bureaucrats also. People looked after each other. Promotion at the early levels was mainly through seniority; the dog-eat-dog of today's Canberra bureaucracy did not exist.

I still remember with affection the two mid-rank officers above me in East Asia section in 1962 - Ken Rodgers and Keith Douglas-Scott. Both went out of their way to teach me how to prepare submissions, use files etc. It was a very natural version of the sempai-kohai (older generation-younger generation) phenomenon I was later to find in Japan.

(Not much of that altruism can be found in today's Canberra, where helping some young firebrand today could well mean seeing him promoted over your head tomorrow. But in those days it was a very attractive and, as in Japan, a very efficiency-promoting aspect of the bureaucracy.)

Nor was there was ever any hint of reprimand or ostracism for people who disagreed with official policies; Plimsoll's tolerant attitude to me was but one example. After all, we were all members of the same elite club, weren't we? Did I really want to wander off into the cold world outside, simply so I could bite the hand that had fed and looked after me for so long?

5. ASIO dogs unleashed

That piece of sentimentalism did not last long. Soon after I was to run into a particularly ugly piece of ASIO stupidity and EA cowardice. It helped me easily to forget any kind of emotional obligation I might have felt towards my former employer.

It happened like this:

Having arranged my study leave, I had decided (foolishly in retrospect) to tell the Department about the Podolsk incident. At the back of my mind was the idealistic notion that they would appreciate knowing the details of yet another KGB operation against their Moscow embassy. As well, I wanted to clear the record about the reasons for my wanting to leave Moscow in a hurry.

All that EA had had to go on was some agitated correspondence from me turning down the New York posting, wanting to travel to China by train, and some jumbled remarks about a lovesick Moscow maid. None of those details would enhance a future career as a diplomat if I was to return after a few years at the ANU.

I needed to, and wanted to, get on the record exactly what had been happening to me in those crucial last few months in Moscow.

I approached Peter Henderson, then head of EA administration (and later EA permanent head), to give him the true story. But he wanted no part of it, and immediately summoned ASIO people to question me. For the best part of a day I was politely, but thoroughly, grilled in an ASIO safe room close to Canberra's Civic Center.

At the time I accepted that this ASIO grilling was probably inevitable. But soon after I began to realise that my car was being tailed (my Moscow experience had made me very sensitive to back-mirror sightings). My telephone was also beginning to make strange noises.

In short, my offer to tell the truth about Moscow had backfired, badly. The ASIO dogs had been unleashed, and had leaped at the chance to home in on a former Moscow-based diplomat, particularly one who could speak two dangerous communist languages. Finally they could get their teeth into one of those pinko EA types, and one who could not fight back.

I had left a life of being under constant suspicion and harassment on one side of the Iron Curtain. I was now getting much the same treatment on the other side. Charming.

But worse was to follow, namely the botched ASIO attempt to trap me into incriminating myself which I have written up elsewhere. But let me summarise the details.

6. Attempted ASIO Entrapment

One evening soon after moving to the ANU I had a phone call in Russian from someone claiming to be an employee of the Soviet Embassy. He said that a senior Embassy official (Petrov, whom I had met in Moscow before his posting to Canberra) wanted to talk to me urgently and could I be at the corner of such and such a street in the nearby suburb of Campbell at 9pm. Petrov would be there to meet me.

I was puzzled. I realised that the KGB might still be wanting to do some kind of follow-up on me as a result of the Volodya affair. But why try to do it in such a crude and obvious way? And the voice on the phone was elderly - strange for a Soviet Embassy employee.

Then the penny dropped. For in describing the alleged rendezvous in the suburb of Campbell the caller had used the Russian pre-revolutionary word 'uezd' for suburb. (The current word was 'raiyon.’) In other words, the caller was probably an elderly White Russian employed by ASIO.

I was in a classic Catch 22 situation. And not just one Catch 22. Two, or maybe even three.

If the call was genuine, it would very likely have been monitored by the ASIO people. If it was not genuine, then obviously ASIO knew about it.

In other words, if I had followed up on it ASIO would have been able to see me as an active or would-be Soviet agent.

But if I did not follow up I would still be in trouble since as someone still on the books as a public servant I was obliged to report any untoward approach from the Soviets in Canberra.

I would be on yet another blacklist - the one reserved for public servants who failed to report attempted contacts by Communist bloc officials.

But if I reported the call, I would go on yet another list - this time the list of people whom the Soviets felt they could use for un-Australian activities – even if I had done nothing to follow up.

There was only one way out: I would immediately report the incident to John Elliot, the then ASIO representative in Canberra, whom I had known earlier in Hongkong where he had posed as an Immigration official. One of his jobs there was monitoring the movement of White Russian refugees from China into Australia.

I would ask for an immediate meeting with him and with the senior EA personnel official (Keith Brennan - whom I had known earlier from Taiwan) since I was still theoretically a member of his department

I would tell them about the mysterious phone call, and suggest it was my patriotic duty to follow up and go to the suggested rendezvous to discover if indeed the Soviets were wanting to use me for some anti-Australia plot. I would promise to report everything back to them. In the process I would be able to find out if the call was genuine or not.

Both agreed that I should follow up on the call (in the presence of Brennan it would have been hard for the ASIO man to say no). But even as I arrived at the purported rendezvous it was obvious that the call had been false.

If Elliot had thought it was real, he would have posted unobtrusive cars near the site to monitor everything. But there was not a single car in sight. In short, he had known from the beginning that it was phony and had probably organised it himself using one of his White Russian contacts. Nor was there anyone from the Soviet embassy. From the start it had been an ASIO plot to incriminate me, whatever I did.

It was a humiliating experience. Not only was I now seen as a legitimate target for KGB-style stunts; the Australian version of the KGB was so incompetent that it had to rely on White Russian relics who could not even speak the contemporary Russian needed to handle their stunts.

ASIO: The Bumblers

ASIO's inferiority complexes towards External Affairs were well-known. Many of its staff were people who had failed to get into EA. And while we EA types traveled the world, most of the ASIO people had to hang out for most of their careers in boring Melbourne.

Their job required them also to be rabid hawks. As the would-be guardians of Australian security, they liked to see us EA people as cosmopolitan, pinko softies vulnerable to communist wiles. Now, thanks to my willingness to tell them about Podolsk, they had had one of these types delivered directly into their incompetent hands. A rare pleasure for them, no doubt, since normally ASIO people were kept on a tight leash when it came to moving against EA people.

In those days ASIO's eccentricities were well-known. No one wanted to have them interfering in foreign policy making.

Soon after I was able to finesse Elliot a second time, this time by suggesting to him that I followup with 'Petrov' about the failed Campbell rendezvous when I met him (Petrov) at a Soviet Embassy reception to which I had been invited in the following week.

If Elliot said yes, then it was possible the call had been genuine and 'Petrov' had backed out at the last moment. If he said no then it was clear that he did not want the ASIO stunt to be revealed. Elliot's negative reaction told me all I wanted to know.

(Years later, the organizer of an investigation into ASIO by the Melbourne newspaper, The Age, told me the UK-born Elliot had been convinced he had discovered an Australian Philby in the EA ranks but he had died soon after. May he rest in peace. I had always liked him; his UK background gave him a sophistication rarely seen in ASIO people. Sad to see him mangled by the employment he chose.)

7. The Last Straw; Out of E.A.

But there was still one loose end. For in reporting the call to Brennan, I would automatically have incriminated myself with EA. Being out of the ASIO loop, EA would have to assume that it was possible the call was genuine even though I had done what I could to prove it was not genuine. None of that would look very nice on my CV if I decided 'after the Vietnam thing was over' to resume a diplomatic career.

I wrote to Plimsoll asking for the Department to contact ASIO, to check whether I had indeed been the target of an ASIO exercise. I said EA did not need to tell me the result of the enquiry. But they did need to get the true story for their own records. Otherwise there would always be a notation on my file saying that at some stage the Soviet embassy might have regarded me as a potential asset, even if I had not cooperated.

Plimsoll's point blank refusal to do anything was the last straw I needed to make me decide to get out of the system. A week later I lodged my formal resignation from External Affairs. There would be no waiting for the ' Vietnam thing' to end. I would be fully committed to the Vietnam debate just beginning to unfold.



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